South Africa s gold mines hit by stayaway

July 16, 2008

, JOHANNESBURG, July 16 – Gold production was severely disrupted in parts of South Africa on Wednesday as thousands of mineworkers downed tools to protest rising living costs, their union and management said.

The stayaway in three of the country\’s nine provinces forms part of a build-up to a national strike organised by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) protest against soaring food and electricity bills.

National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the strike would affect mines in the Free State — which produces around 30 percent the country\’s gold output — as well as the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga.

"In the Free State there is already a total shutdown," Seshoka told AFP.

Wednesday\’s work boycott is part of a wider programme of industrial action which should culminate in a national strike on August 6.

"We want to send a very strong message that the poor are part of this society which puts electricity, food and everything beyond its reach," said NUM general-secretary Frans Baleni.

Rising costs of food and fuel, inflation and subsequent interest rates hikes have put pressure on the country\’s poor.

Daniel Thole of Gold Fields, whose giant Beatrix mine is situated in the Free State, said two of its shafts were operating with 10 percent staff attendance, and one with 90 percent attendance.

"The NUM applied for a one-day political protest action at our Beatrix mine…. There are some non-NUM members at work. Anyone with a mine in the Free State will be affected, it\’s quite widespread."

South Africa was recently overtaken by China as the world\’s largest producer of gold.

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